Scaling the Wall
The pull of gravity keeps our feet on the ground as we move out into an unknown future. Our commonwealth is from heaven, of heaven, heavenly. But we know the pull of gravity whose spiritual dimension is fear. The Commonwealth Avenue Mall honors many women and also men who looked fear in the eye. Today, the eye falls on Leif Erickson. Think about sailing across the Atlantic in wood and sail, hundreds of years ago. Even John Wesley found his faith, his sea legs, finally, watching the Moravians fearless in the Hurricane, and listening to their singing. Peace, perfect peace. Peace, perfect peace. Even Rev. Tindley, could reach out and down at Tindley Temple in Philadelphia, to pen great spiritual hymns: when the storms of life are raging stand by me…
At Boston University I see women and men facing down fear. I see professors looking out into forty eyes in twenty chairs. I see students thumbing through books in foreign languages. I see administrators making good, tough choices. I see parents going up a set stairs with hands full of furniture and coming down the same set of stairs with eyes full of tears.
One local and particularly favorite fear focus is on Commonwealth Avenue, our earthly not our heavenly commonwealth. You will have to go up a few blocks though. You will have to enter the new Fitness and Recreation Center—a beautiful space. Go in with a friend. Go downstairs. Stop at the desk. Tim will greet you. You will see behind him some shoes that look like bowling shoes, except they are so slight, so light, so small. There is probably a pair that will fit you. Then turn around. These are shoes worn by those who face down the fear of heights, scaling a man-made rock wall. Here is an image of a climbing wall, of little shoes, of spotter and rope…of a willingness to move closely over the face of the rock, to know its bumps, its rises, its gullies, its angles of repose.
Every moment of interpretation is such a perilous project. Will the feet stay settled on a ledge of translation? Will the body lean right or left as needed to find the right paraphrase? Will the hands, particularly the hands, hold tight to the meaning, old and new, of the words interpreted? Will there be somebody to catch you if you fall? Who is holding that safety rope, in the hour of interpretation? What did Paul mean when he sent the following greeting and salutation to Philippi?
Greeting and Salutation
Here, the Revised Standard Version translation of Philippians 1: 1-12 is recited from the chancel ,in front of the altar, before the Marsh congregation and between the choir stalls and choristers…
Hold Fast: Knowledge, Discernment, Approval, Excellence
This year we are learning to do some spiritual rock climbing. We reach toward our heavenly commonwealth, grounded in the reality of our earthly commonwealth, our existential hope grounded in the gravity of our fears. We are moving slowly, ledge by ledge, over the face of this great promontory, Paul’s loveliest letter. We see up close its joints, its crevices, its moss, its façade. We climb to interpret, interpret to climb, climb to interpret, interpret to climb. Hold on! Reach up to the next hand hold.
It is my prayer that your love will abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve what is excellent.
Now these are slippery and surprising words to grasp, to hold onto. Be careful will you! We hear ‘love’ and then words to interpret love that we would least expect. Yet here they are. On the climbing wall. I mean in the Bible. Knowledge. Discernment. Approve. Excellent. (*The renditions that follow are the preacher’s, in conversation with articles in TDNT, loc. Cit.)
Love, but knowingly, with knowledge.
Here is a mighty term: Epignosei… Knowledge.
What does the N on the Nebraska footfall helmet stand for? Nowledge!
And what does knowledge here mean? Gnosis? The Acute Hellenization of Christianity? Pessimistic Enthusiasm? Plato in the later years? Epi—super, moreso? Just like knowledge only moreso?
Knowledge signifies grasp, comprehension, and understanding. It is the knowledge needed to learn something, like a swimming stroke, like the butterfly (not perception, though they are connected). In Greek thought, knowledge has the character of
seeing. “For Plato, knowledge is the presupposition for right political action.” Knowledge was the goal of Hellenistic piety. Knowledge involves a concern for what really is. Is God—beyond or separate, Greek or Gnostic? For Paul gnosis (as here) is always set under agape, without which it is worthless.
‘It is the God who said ‘let light shine out of darkness… Knowledge puffs up, love builds up…
Love, but discerningly, with discernment.
Here is a mighty term. Aisthesai. All insight. All discernment. Judgment (!), KJV. Temperment. Some things the Philippians do need from Paul. They need understanding and insight. Love must fasten itself on things which are worth loving.
Here is the power of moral discrimination and ethical judgment. The howling of the TV in our time makes people fearful that our discourse has left all connection in quality and kind with the kind and quality of discourse we need in our fateful moment in history. This is ethical judgment as distinct from religious judgment. A: sensual perception; B: perception or spiritual discernment; C: intellectual understanding. It is primarily A, a capacity of the soul, as distinct from a capacity of the mind. Today we would say transformation not just information.
Love, but by approving what is excellent.
Here is a mighty phrase. Dokimazein… Diapheronta…
Approve. Support. Test. Literally, “That you may test the things that differ.” Look for Essential qualities. So live that there is nothing to condemn. Test! Try! This is a peculiar use in the NT. ‘Human existence stands under the divine testing in which it must prove itself’. Testing, in a fuller and deeper sense, is the result of the experience of the Christian community.
Approve what is …Excellent. I will show you a more excellent way. 1Cor 13. Rom 2:18. ‘approve what is excellent’ (same phrase)….’that which is fitting in a given situation’. We need not apologize for a commitment to excellent. We cannot avoid a calling to excellence.
What is worth more, what is superior to, what is best, what is right, the things that “carry through”. What lasts, matters, counts, works. Behold! At the heart of the Bible, a commitment to excellence, and an attention to detail.
Intelligence is knowing the right story for the right moment, or the right illustration for the right sermon (otherwise, the sideshow that ate up the circus). That last also has political ramifications.
The Saints Who Are at Marsh
We honor examples of identified lay ministry here at Marsh Chapel. For the second year, this first September Sunday is identified as our own, Marsh Chapel Matriculation Service. At the beginning of term, we offer praise to God, we listen for God’s word, we receive the Lord’s Supper, we distribute a new term book, a new brochure, a new information card. And we name, to honor their example, some of our lay leadership here at Marsh. We do so, though, in the spirit and following the letter of Philippians 1, addressing ALL the saints who are at Boston. If your name is not here, it is here still:
Ministry Staff and Chapel Associates
Br. Lawrence A. Whitney, LC+, University Chaplain for Community Life
August Delbert, Ministry Associate for First-Year Students
Liz Douglass, Chapel Associate for LGBTQ Ministry
Susan Forshey, Chapel Associate for Ministry Formation
The Rev. Victoria Hart Gaskell, OSL, Chapel Associate for Methodist Students
Ross Ponder, Ministry Associate for Undergraduate Students
Tom Reis, Ministry Assistant
Tyler Sit, Marsh Associate for LGBTQ Ministry; Ministry Assistant
Elizabeth Siwo-Okundi, M Div, Chapel Associate for Students of African Descent
Jeri-Katherine Warden, Ministry Associate for Student Athletes
Music and Worship Staff
Scott Allen Jarrett, DMA, CFA ’07, Director of Music
David Ames, Chapel Sacristan
Justin Thomas Blackwell, Associate Director of Music
Rachel Cape, Music Program Administrator
Kara Harris, Choral Scholar
Herbert S. Jones, Director, Inner Strength Gospel Choir
Emily Marvosh, Choral Scholar
Stefan Reed, Choral Scholar
Melissa Riesgo, Music Program Administrator
Joshua Taylor, Choral Scholar
Teresa Wakim, Choral Scholar
Brenna Wells, Choral Scholar
Timothy Westerhaus, Assistant Conductor, Marsh Chapel Choir
Graham T. Wright, Choral Scholar
Office and Support Team
Ray Bouchard, MTS, STH ’95, Director of Marsh Chapel
Elizabeth Fomby, Director of Hospitality
Justin Blackwell, Director of Communications
Lea Christoforou, Student Staff
Kaitlin Daly, Student Staff
Heidi Freimanis, Wedding Coordinator
Hae Won Lee, Student Staff
Karen Smith, Student Staff
Lay Leaders, Coordinators and Representatives of Special Ministries
Sandra Cole, Service Ministry, Liturgy, Membership Role
George Coulter, Laura Elliott, Mark Gray, Ushers
Jay Reeg, Kim Schreiber, Jennifer Williams, Ushers
Susan Forshey, Adult Study
Patrick Fulford, Br. Larry Whitney, LC+, Affiliate Churches
Mark Gray, Dean’s Study
Ondine Brent, Dr. Beverly Brown, Advisory Board
Nancy Marsh Hartman, Graham T. Wright, Advisory Board
Rachel Harvester, Co-Chair, Servant Team
Jan Hill, Children’s Choir and Chapel Women’s Forum
Sean McQuarrie, Co-Chair, Servant Team
Glenn Messer, History and Records
The Rev. Dr. Robert Cummings Neville, Eucharistic Ministry
John Pedican, Lay Reading
Cecilia Robinson, Hospitality
Roy Sassi, Radio Congregation
Rhoda Serafim, Ministry through RIM with Iraqi refugees
Nellie Staley, Encouragement Letters
Sherman Wissinger, Photography
TBD, Habitat for Humanity
You Are Philippians Recited
We have listened with love, with joy, with wonder, to the words of holy writ. Hands chapped, arms sore, body tired, we have at last settled our feet upon the good earth, down from the great climb of the great wall of holy writ. We are ready for rest, for cleansing, for showering, for refreshment. Holy Communion awaits us. (Those listening may call to request communion in the home).
In conclusion, though we are still staring at Philippians Recited. We realize something. In the week to come, ready or not, prepared or not, feeling so or not, YOU are Philippians. For your neighbor, the only explanation of this word received will be the one you live, on your front porch, in your dorm hall. For your office staff, the only definition of approval that will matter is the one they hear from you, both in what you say and in the way you say it, both in what you do not say, and in the way you do not say it. For your students, I mean your teachers, I mean your colleagues in study, the only preaching of excellence that will have meaning will be the one they hear, or overhear, in your daily discourse. For your family, discernment will be Greek to the, unless they experience your discerning care. YOU are Philippians Recited, come Monday.
Hey, my work is done! I did what I could for you! You know where I am! You had your chance! Now, ministry is up to you.
-Dean Robert Allan Hill